How to up your pancake game

I. Love. Pancakes. Do you? I love IHOP, and 24-hour diner dives, and truck stops. I love having pancakes with my chicken fried steak, or with steak and eggs, or with the whole shebang: bacon, hashbrowns, and a soft fried egg on top (I love to break the yolk on top of my pancakes – is that gross? Do other people not do that?)


I used to be a wheat purist – in that I refused to cook with white flour. It was a good time for me, but it got expensive and my husband didn’t appreciate how strong a flavor whole wheat has. So I compromised. I would use half wheat, half white flour. The flavor was less distinct but still gave some of the nutritional value from fiber in the whole wheat. The end product was also a better consistency since whole wheat has a tendency to make foods more dense, due to its lessened ability to form gluten.

So back to the pancakes.

I think I have tried at least a dozen different pancake recipes. At least. Some of them light and fluffy, some not so much. But first, let’s talk about what makes a great pancake.

Firstly, I look at the recipe. Is there enough sugar so I won’t have to add tons of syrup? Is there a good amount of baking powder to allow for fluffiness to occur? Is traditional milk used? Or buttermilk? Does it call for butter or oil? All of these things affect the taste.

Here’s a pretty good recipe to get your started:


3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon bacon grease or oil

1 large egg + 1 egg white

So, this recipe is pretty basic. It’s got your flour, sugar, baking powder and buttermilk (a must!). It can make you a fairly yummy breakfast. But let’s set some ground rules first.

First, cook some bacon. Seriously. I’m sorry to you vegetarians out there, but bacon is magical. And bacon grease makes for some stellar pancakes. I tried this out the first time when I was making buckwheat pancakes and it recommended using bacon grease. Then I cooked the pancakes around the bacon. BEST. IDEA. EVER. The grease almost crystallizes the sugar in the pancakes and makes for a “mmmmm”-inducing sensation as it hits your tongue. The bacon and the pancakes become fast friends. When a pancake is done, move the bacon to its spot so that it can get good and greased up for the next visitor.

Start the bacon before you begin the pancake batter. That way, by the time you reach the tablespoon of bacon grease suggested in the recipe, you’ll have some steaming hot artery cloggers pooled up in your griddle trap and ready to go (what? I didn’t claim that up your pancake game meant good things for your thighs).

When all of the bacon is done cooking, sigh a sad sigh and use the rest of the collected grease as you finish cooking your pancakes. You might have to be a super speedy ninja as you do this, to make sure that the grease doesn’t reach the trap hole before you get the trap back there.

Second, you really, really need to mix your wet and dry ingredients separately. In some recipes it only kind of makes a difference. With pancakes, it makes all the difference in the world. Let me tell you why. The fluffiest, melt-in-your-mouth pancakes are the ones that are just barely mixed together. As in – everything’s that was dry is now wet and there aren’t any clumps. No more than that. As you keep whisking, your deactivating the baking soda’s reaction with the buttermilk. Just let them do their thing. Don’t ruin it for them.

That brings me back to the WHY your dry/wet ingredients should be mixed separately. If you just throw them all together, you’ll be mixing and mixing and mixing trying to gets the eggs fully incorporated, or making sure that the flour isn’t still dry on the bottom. Mix the dry ingredients first. Whisk them up. Then the wet ingredients. Whisk, whisk, whisk until the buttermilk and the eggs are one. Get some of that awesome bacon grease that’s been collecting and pour it on in. Don’t be shy. They’re all friends.

Once each bowl is mixed, gently pour the wet bowl into the dry bowl and whisk it around a few times so all the ingredients are nice and cozy. Perfect. Thank goodness your griddle is already prepped and ready for you to go.

Lastly, can we talk a little about toppings? I’d just like to throw something out there – you can throw it right back if you want – but is anyone else disgusted by fake syrup? You know what I’m talking about. The kind that is 99% corn syrup and 1% artificial flavorings? Yuck. My husband and I took our toddler to a maple festival in small town West Virginia while we were still broke college students. Since that festival, I have always splurged on the real stuff. It’s only a few dollars. You’re better than imitation tree sugar. Make the change and never look back.

What about things other than syrup from a jug or bottle? Let’s just get the obvious out of the way: chocolate. I mean, come on. How much better can life get than chocolate for breakfast? Chocolate chips, chocolate sauce, crushed up Oreos – the possibilities are only as limited as your stomach can handle. I use Nutella. It is Italy’s gift to the world. Thank you, Pietro Ferrero, for inventing something that doesn’t induce an eyebrow raise from my chocolate-does-not-belong-at-breakfast believing husband.

My other favorite topping is peanut butter. It is so yummy. The wheat and brown sugar from the pancakes mix with the peanut butter reminiscent of a very, very sweet sandwich. The only problem with this option is how dry it leaves your mouth. Milk. Lots of milk. Or syrup. Syrup works too.

If you’re into wicked toppings, try out homemade buttermilk syrup. It will change your life. You will compare all other syrups to this. Or a cookie dough syrup never hurt anyone’s feelings. While you’re at it, why not top your red velvet pancakes with a cream cheese frosting syrup? Your taste buds can thank me later.

How about other toppings? Hmmm…okay, fine. Be that way. You can top it with fruit if you want. Bananas or blueberries or strawberries or a cherry compote or a raspberry jam (that counts, right?). Whatever suits your fancy. The only problem with topping it with fruit is, you still need to drown it in either syrup or whipped cream. So where’d the nutritional value of the fruit go? Just eat it on the side so you don’t feel like a hypocrite. Or in a smoothie. Yeah. That fruit definitely belongs in a smoothie.


Are you hungry yet? Me too. You make the pancakes and I’ll bring the toppings. Prepare for a well -deserving nap afterwards.


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